life, love, and maybe babies

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Bravo! How One Television Network is Changing the Public's Understanding of Infertility

Confession: I dig reality television. Don't judge.

                 Image result for shrug gif 

It started as just a way to blow off steam, a fun little escape into other people's problems. Over the years though, I have come to realize that yes, I truly enjoy it. The (usually manufactured) drama, the silliness, the pretty people in 5" stilettos throwing wine on each other. It's all very, very good.

Way to make me a lifelong viewer, Andy Cohen.

While I typically enjoy reality TV for its entertainment value only, I am recently discovering that it is more topical in my life than I ever could have imagined. Currently on the Bravo network alone, there are several infertility stories being told. My fave's are:

Flipping Out: Jeff Lewis and his partner Gage are pregnant through IVF/Surrogacy. Meanwhile, Jenni is hoping for a successful IUI experience to become pregnant with her second child.

Real Housewives of Orange CountyHousewife Meghan King Edmonds is utilizing IVF to become pregnant due to her husband Jimmy having had a vasectomy years ago. In addition, Meghan's cast mate Heather Dubrow went through IVF for three of her four children, and discusses her experience very openly on the show and her podcast, "Heather Dubrow's World."

I know you're all like, psuedo-celebrities having fertility treatments? Please. Why should I care?

I care. And I think you should too.

For one thing, look how far we've come. This side of 10 year ago, if you saw anything relating to infertility on prime time, it was a rose-colored glasses, punch-line driven version. Remember when Phoebe used IVF to get pregnant with her brother's triplets on "Friends"? She had the transfer, took a pregnancy test 5 hours later and had a positive result. Voila!


Cuz that happens.

While I'm grateful that shows like"Friends" brought infertility to the forefront, the reality (pun intended) is that a sitcom was never going to gain any real empathy from its target audience. Infertility was always just going to be an obscure plot device that resolved itself in 22 minutes so the main character could start wearing cute maternity clothes (that you could purchase right now) and joke about how she felt fat in a size 4.

The introduction of reality television is beginning to change that landscape. Yes it's still through the lens of an ultra affluent, magazine-glossy reality, but at least it's being represented. And if you think about it, infertility is the ultimate in guaranteed drama, which is what reality shows need. The sufferer can promise screen time of pain, suffering, and uncertainty. That's TV gold.

In a recent episode of "Real Housewives of Orange County", we watched as Meghan King Edmonds stood in front of a mirror, pinched a (nearly invisible) piece of fat on her stomach and injected herself for the first time with her IVF medication. It took her over 10 minutes to get the courage to do it.


As an IVF survivor, I was instantly transported right back to my first injection over Thanksgiving weekend of 2014. As I watched Meghan's eyes fill with tears of happiness when it was over and she had done it, I felt mine well up too. In subsequent episodes, you hear Meghan discuss her stomach painfully bloating as the eggs grew, the agitation and raging hormones she's feeling - all of it. It's real, raw, and very necessary that people see how this works.

That doesn't mean it's all rainbows and puppies, though.


I do have a teeny, itty bitty problem with Meghan documenting her IVF journey through the lens of infertility. After all, infertility is a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse. In Meghan's case, her husband had a voluntary vasectomy years ago and therefore Meghan must use her own eggs and his frozen sperm to create a baby. 

Am I splitting hairs? Or cutting my nose off to spite my face? Probably. But still. The biggest issue I have in the portrayal of Meghan's journey is this.  

She didn't go through the hell that many women and men do to discover her infertility in the first place. 

Meghan knew from Jump Street that IVF would be her path to pregnancy. So to say she struggled with infertility  feels at best inaccurate and at worst a little exploitative. It downplays the emotional heartache that one must typically go through before even thinking of going the IVF route. (Unless there is more to the story than she is sharing, in which case, I would rethink my statement.

That doesn't mean I don't feel for her or am less proud of her. IVF is a tough, tough deal. And from what I've seen on the show, Meghan is basically going through it on her own, as her husband doesn't seem to show a great deal of interest in the process. I'm simply not a fan of her using the word "infertility" to describe her experience. 

But I'm just judging from behind the safe space of my computer and TV screen. I'd welcome a conversation with her, because in the end, she is bringing a very difficult and emotional experience to the masses, and for that I appreciate and love her for sharing.

Moving on...

Meanwhile, can I just say how much I love Jeff Lewis and his partner Gage going the surrogacy route to achieve their baby?
Watching Jeff and Gage give their specimens, choose their surrogate, and eventually wait to hear the results from the embryo transfer make me as weepy as the day I first heard we were pregnant.

When Jeff's bestie, Jenni, holds her legs up to her ears after an IUI, willing that sperm to get on up there and do its thing...I am transported back to my IUI. Sitting in a cold gown. Waiting. Wishing. All in the hopes that this time would be different.

So the net is, reality TV is making me a Crybaby McWeepy. But it's all good. If nothing else, infertility is getting exposure, however imperfect that exposure may be. After all, these are hundreds of hours of footage cut down to 42 minutes. But this format is giving people a small glimpse into the life of an infertile, and if that can create a little more understanding and empathy, I'm all for it.

I don't know if Jeff and Gage's baby will make it. I don't know that Jenni will ever get pregnant with her second baby. Maybe things will work out, and perhaps they won't. Maybe one of these stories will end with adoption, or a couple giving up altogether. But it's all being told. In HD quality.

And for now, I'm okay with that. It can only get better from here.

Let me know if you want any of my input, Andy Cohen. I'm always around.



Grace said...

Do you watch Million Dollar Listing NY? I love it and Fredrik has gone through attempted surrogacy (he, like Jeff, is gay) and it has failed all the times that he's done it. It's so sad and really brought back the feels.

Kaeleigh MacDonald said...

Yes Grace, I also watch million Dollar listing and i CRIED big sloppy tears the last timE it didnt work out and he was like, Im just done, I can't do this Anymore. All of the feels came rushing back.

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